On September 10, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts travel to the City of Angels to take on the Rams. In this week one match up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against. The Rams have a new coaching staff and the team is stocked with high draft picks from years past. These aren’t the same Rams that we played in 2013 and hopefully the outcome is a little different this time too. Let’s learn more about the new look Rams.
Sean McVay’s Scheme
In looking at what system new Rams head coach Sean McVay had used previously, I decided I wouldn’t reinvent the wheel. Much has been written about his brand of offense, QBKlass over at Turf Show Times has delved into the Rams new scheme and I’ll give you the cliff notes (because I know you aren’t clicking that link, but you should because there’s a ton of great info in there).
McVay likes to stretch the field vertically. If executed well enough, the vertical game will open up room underneath for easier throws in that area, and it will soften up the box for the running back.
...Three or four verticals is the simplest way to attack down the field... McVay adds two interesting twists to this tried and true concept in this clip, one to the strong side and one to the weak side.
...the outside receiver takes an inside release to his vertical stem, then breaks off into a ‘dig’ (deep-in) route over the heart of the field. With the deep safety focused on the vertical routes, that ‘dig’ route is a 1-on-1 battle unless one of the underneath defenders drops deep...
Linebacker Damien Wilson, who showed blitz off the left edge before the snap, trotted back into coverage after the snap. Normally, Wilson would have gained more depth that he did and drifted toward the middle of the field or followed the running back out of the backfield, but the Washington receiver running a shallow crosser distracted Wilson and got him to bite forward. - QBKlass
So what does that mean? Sean McVay likes vertical passing concepts (often with trips on one side or the other) and uses various concepts to manipulate the defense into leaving someone open, based on the defensive look (Further reading on a few concepts you might see: Dagger, Mills, Four Verts, NCAA, Sail) .
In the clip provided above, watch the RB come out of the backfield. If Cousins sees him, he has 20 yards of open space before needing to make someone miss, but that wasn’t Cousins first missed read on the play. The receiver running the deep-in comes open against 1-on-1 coverage but Kirk Cousins thought the guy with three defenders within 5 yards of him was probably the best option. If the GM of the Washington Redskins ever watches film (he does), plays like this are why they haven’t committed big money to him.
In my study of Sean McVay’s scheme one thing keeps jumping out: in the NFL this system is as close to a true spread offense as it gets. When looking at the deep vertical passing concepts that were drawn up for Kirk Cousins, it’s no wonder he threw for almost 5,000 yards last year. It’s also not surprising that Sean McVay became the youngest head coach in NFL history.
Any quarterback with NFL caliber arm strength, accuracy and protection is going to feast in this scheme. So now the question becomes; does the top pick in the 2015 draft have those abilities?
Jared Goff. Does he suck?
The narrative around Jared Goff is that he isn’t very good. So I began my journey, expecting to watch a lot of really bad QB play. I started with two games from last season and then the 3rd preseason game of 2017.
- Goff throws a pick:
It’s impossible to know exactly what happened here. At first glance it looks as if it’s just a really bad pass on an out-route, but when you break it down, it seems more like someone made a bad read on an option route. It appears that Goff reads zone and the TE reads man coverage. If this is what happened, this pick is absolutely Goff’s fault as the Cardinals were in man-to-man.
- Goff gets sacked:
This was a nicely timed delayed blitz by the ILB. He didn’t finish the sack but he was there an instant after Goff reached the top of his drop. This was pretty common for Goff in his rookie year. I noticed he often had to evade defenders before trying to make something happen. Another example:
Another note about the Rams struggle to protect their young quarterback, Jared Goff is a much better athlete than I thought he was. No one is going to confuse him for Cam Newton, but his athleticism reminds me a lot of Alex Smith. In his rookie season when he faced pressure he often took his eyes off of his receivers downfield and looked to run. This is something that a lot of young QB’s struggle with early on, Goff is no exception.
- Goff Touchdown:
In this clip you see a well executed run-action pass. This play was designed to get the TE open after working through the 2nd level defenders looking to make a tackle on Todd Gurley. The TE ran a great route and the defenders bit like they were supposed to. Goff was throwing to that TE either way but he made an accurate throw to the planned target.
Thus far we’ve only looked at Goff’s rookie year, but with a new scheme and a year of NFL life under his belt, Jared Goff may have improved.
- Goff progresses through reads:
I’ll admit I’m not giving you the best clip here, but one thing to notice is how Goff scans the left side of the field before turning to the right to find the open man.
- Goff facing pressure, keeps his eyes downfield, takes easy yards:
This is a departure from his 2016 tape. Goff moved well in the pocket to avoid the rush, kept his eyes downfield and then made a safe, smart throw to pick up the first down.
- Goff takes a hit:
I would criticize the offensive line, but Joey Bosa is Joey Bosa.
- Goff Incomplete:
This is another play that’s tough to tell why the ball was so off target, but bottom line, it goes down as incomplete.
- Goff Interception:
There’s the Goff everyone loves to hate. I can’t really explain this INT. There’s nothing I can come up with other than it was just a really poorly thrown ball.
- Conclusion on Jared Goff:
So far this preseason everything I’ve heard from LA Rams fans has been positive. The impression that he’s given is that he’s far more comfortable in McVay’s system. Coming from the famed “Bear-raid” offense at Cal to McVay’s spread system, it makes sense Goff would be comfortable.
Those last two clips are troubling if you’re a Rams fan, but as a life-long Colts fan I remember seeing Manning miss just as bad as those clips. It just didn’t happen that often. The jury is still out on Goff but if he can succeed at the NFL level, Sean McVay’s offense is his best shot. Between Goff and Gurley our defense better come ready to play.
Todd Gurley, one year wonder?
It’s no secret, Todd Gurley struggled last year. To the tune of 885 yards on 278 carries. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 3.2 yards per carry. When you look at running backs drafted in the top 15 since 2007, only three have averaged less than 3.5 YPC for an entire season; Todd Gurley, Darren McFadden and Trent Richardson.
That’s not good.
But why? Their fan base seems to be split, but almost everyone agrees, there isn’t a single aspect that explains their failure as a whole. This is another time I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Once again QBKlass over at Turf Show Times put together a great explanation of the 2016 Rams’ running struggles. Once again, because I know you’re lazy here’s the TL;DR:
Gurley has shown little patience, flexibility or explosive ability. Gurley has averaged a pedestrian 3.0 yards per carry thus far, which is inexcusable even behind this offensive line. On top of that, Gurley does not have a single rushing attempt over 20 yards and has only eclipsed ten yards on six occasions this year. Gurley has been neither efficient or explosive.
By all accounts, Gurley hasn’t been the same player the Rams originally drafted. He has rapidly regressed from his budding superstar status... into a plodding runner whose net function is to mostly be a battering ram. Thankfully, Gurley still gives us rare reminders that he is a special player.
As per usual, the line of scrimmage gets clogged up immediately and fails to sort itself out. More often than not, Gurley plunges straight ahead and simply tries to power through the garbage for as many yards as he can. It’s costed him plenty of yardage this season, but, with this offensive line, it’s hard to blame a player for mailing it in a little bit when he is constantly being battered without reward.
As a Colts fan when I read “More often than not, Gurley plunges straight ahead and simply tries to power through the garbage for as many yards as he can” I had horrible flashbacks of Trent Richardson trying to run over a guard he could have at least tried to miss. This isn’t looking good.
The most glaring wart on Los Angeles’s collective run blocking effort is their inability to generate push. Left tackle Greg Robinson, left guard Rodger Saffold and right tackle Rob Havenstein have random (read: rare) moments of nastiness where they clear a path, but nobody on the offensive line can be counted on to consistently win the physical battle. Even when the Rams try to assert themselves with clear double teams, the line can’t move anybody off the ball.
...The players are the ones on the field making (or not making) the plays, so it’s easy to burden them with all the blame. While many of the players are responsible for the demise of the running game for their own reasons, they have not been set up well to succeed. Head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau have had five years to build their offensive line and install their blocking schemes. This dismal group should not be the product after five years...
Last year’s team was a mess when it came to blocking and the running game as a whole. So what can we expect in 2017? Jeff Fisher ran a mostly man blocking power scheme, Sean McVay prefers more zone blocking with the occasional man scheme thrown in. In addition to the change in scheme the Rams have worked to add talent and find the right fit along the offensive line. The results:
- Inside Zone:
- Outside Zone:
At one point in their 3rd preseason game the LA Rams ran the ball six (6) times in a row and moved the ball down the field. They didn’t run it six times in a row because it was the preseason and they ran out of pass plays, they did it because they were opening holes and getting a push.
Based on their 2017 tape (of only a single game), this could end up being a good zone blocking team. It could be a fluke, but they’re executing well early in the year.
If you’re wondering about what zone blocking is and you would like to learn more, this is a great explanation.
If their ability to open holes doesn’t disappear between now and Week 1, Todd Gurley may find himself more room than he had all of last year. He might find himself fighting for touches with the Rams newest receiving threat, Sammy Watkins.
In case you live under a literal rock, here’s a link detailing the Sammy Watkins trade from a few weeks ago.
We’ve gone over Sean McVay’s desire to throw the deep ball. So how does Watkins fit?
He has a career average of 16.1 yards per catch. For comparison TY Hilton has a career average of 15.7 yards per catch. Watkins’ issue has never been his physical ability, he just needs to stay healthy and as of right now, the Colts secondary looks like it will have its hands full in week 1.
The Rams have talent at their offensive skill positions, Todd Gurley had a bad year but is a gifted athlete, Sammy Watkins fits perfectly with what the Rams want to do and Jared Goff is in an offensive system similar to the one that made him a number 1 overall pick. Unless the Colts can generate a consistent pass rush I fear Jared Goff might introduce himself to the rest of the league as a legit NFL QB against our defense. If their moves to improve the offensive line are successful, this offense has the potential to be explosive. Later in the week we will take a look at the Rams defense and how Wade Phillips will impact the game.